Taiwan’s fishing practices often cause strife between the island and other nations. Ironically, it’s now an attempt to rein them in that’s causing a problem. Radio New Zealand International has the summary:

A summit in the Marshall Islands next month is expected to discuss Taiwan’s decision to block tuna fishing vessels in Taiwanese shipyards.

The vessels are being built in joint ventures between Taiwanese companies and the governments of Tuvalu and the Marshall islands.

But the Taiwanese government has stopped their release amid concern by scientists about over-fishing because of the increase in the number of vessels.

The actual story is a complex one. Pacific Magazine describes the tale from the point of view of the fishing fleet operators.

Koo Kwang-ming, chairman of Koo’s Fishing Company, and Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios both expressed concern about the impact that a new rule enforced since June is having on both Koo’s and this central Pacific nation.

Koo and Zackios are attending the first Taiwan Pacific Allies Summit in Palau this week.

“Taiwan must provide support to develop the fishing industries (in Pacific Islands) to increase their income,” Koo told Pacific Magazine.

“For me, it is very clear how to operate a fishing company to make money, and how to help support development of local industry.”

Koo’s currently operates one purse seiner in joint venture with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, and its five other purse seiners are all flagged and based in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

But a new rule enforced by Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture starting in June is holding up release of two purse seiners just completed at a cost of $10 million each. Zackios noted that both vessels were contracted well before the new regulation went into effect. Koo is confident that the problem is only temporary and will be resolved.

Critics who argue that the new generation of sophisticated fishing vessels are depleting fish stocks say that flagging vessels in island countries is merely a tactic to allow more Taiwanese vessels to operate, since under a new regional agreement for managing tuna on the high seas, domestic fleets of island nations get preferential treatment.

But Zackios said Koo’s Fishing Company, because it is based in the Marshall Islands, is generating jobs and revenue for the Marshall Islands.

Koo blames pressure from the Japanese government and fishing industry on Taiwan for the new regulation “that is impeding the development of Pacific Island fisheries. Japan is pressuring Taiwan to not allow Pacific Islands to have a greater number of fishing vessels.”

“We’ve done everything to raise the issue with the (Taiwan) Council of Agriculture to release the boats,” Zackios told Pacific Magazine. “It is having a great impact on economic activity in the Marshall Islands.”

Koo added that the new Taiwan regulation forbids the export of the boats to the Marshall Islands, even though they were contracted for by a Marshall Islands-based company.

Zackios said that Koo’s, with its fleet of six vessels and a transshipment operation in Majuro, employs up to 70 Marshall Islanders.

Gaining release of the two new vessels “is of great importance to the company and to our domestic growth,” Zackios said.

The aim is to expand the Koo’s joint venture fishing fleet with the Marshall Islands to five or six vessels, Koo said.

Zackios said that as each new purse seiner comes out of the shipyards in Taiwan, the Marshall Islands joint venture company intends to buy one of Koo’s Fishing Company’s older purse seiners.

Koo said he is committed to developing the domestic fishing industry in the Marshall Islands. Pointing to past failed attempts to operate purse seiners by the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Islands, Koo said that “before, Pacific Islands didn’t know how to develop their fisheries industries. Now, I have a joint venture Marshall Islands company and it knows how to make money.”

What’s the story from the other point of view? You have to go back to a spate of articles in the Taipei Times and other regional papers from three years ago on the new super tuna boats Taiwan operates:

At a conference on the Indonesian island of Bali in April, Japan warned the new boats could ruin the sustainability of the Pacific’s tuna resources, a claim dismissed by Taiwan as sour grapes over increased competition.

The United States also expressed concern about the number of super seiners under construction and along with South Korea called for a moratorium. Fiji called for a total ban on the vessels.

Michael Powles, chairman of the Bali meeting which was aimed at setting up a Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, said for many years it had been assumed Pacific tuna stocks were self-sustaining.

“But there are now those who say it has reached a really crucial point. There is a very real issue here …. It is such a critical resource,” Powles told AFP.

Acccording to the article, Taiwanese fishing companies operate a few dozen boats under Vanuatu and Marshall Islands flags of convenience.

At the Bali conference Japan said the bulk of the Taiwanese vessels were super seiners and it alleged that Taiwan was building more vessels. It named seven Taiwanese companies and alleged they were intentionally circumventing licensing control and were fishing excessively.

“In short, it is surprisingly evident that the Taiwanese fishing industry increased its purse seiner fishing capacity dramatically,” Japan’s delegation said.

But Wu Hsin-chang, chief of the Pacific fishery section at Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency, denied Taiwanese boats were threatening stocks and said Japan was upset by the fierce competition of the industry.

“We object to any attempt to oppress Taiwan’s fishing development under the pretence of conserving fishing resources,” he told AFP in Taipei.

But Wu said Taiwan would comply with any new regulations restricting fishing in the Pacific.

“What we ask for is a fair and transparent mechanism which gives us a clear idea of what is allowed and what isn’t,” he said.

He also said Taiwan had no jurisdiction over “flag of convenience” boats and countries which licensed them had to supervise them.

“The responsibility doesn’t fall on Taiwan just because they are operated by Taiwanese investors,” Wu said.

LOL. Taiwanese investors aren’t responsible even though they are the boats of Taiwanese investors.